DETROIT A former federal prosecutor facing criminal charges over his handling of a high-profile terrorism trial demanded yesterday that the Detroit Free Press reveal its sources as part of his lawsuit against the government.
A lawyer for Richard Convertino, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Detroit, subpoenaed the information from the paper’s owner, McLean, Va.-based Gannett Co.
Convertino was the lead prosecutor in the nation’s first post-Sept. 11 terrorism trial. He won convictions of three of the four defendants in 2003, but they were overturned the following year at the request of the government, which said the prosecutors had failed to turn over some documents that could have aided the defense.
The Justice Department had been investigating Convertino’s handling of the terrorism case and two 1990s drug cases when he resigned last year. In March, he was indicted on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false declarations.
Yesterday’s subpoena is part a lawsuit Convertino filed in U.S. District Court in Washington against the Justice Department in 2004. He accuses officials there of violating the federal Privacy Act by leaking information about him to the Free Press.
The subpoena demands that Gannett provide the names of anonymous Justice Department officials cited in a January 2004 Free Press article that first detailed the internal investigation into Convertino’s conduct in the terrorism trial and other cases.
Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell said the company had just begun to review the subpoena and had no comment. Messages seeking comment were left for Free Press lawyer Herschel Fink.
In a letter to Gannett, Convertino’s lawyer Stephen Kohn said the sources who revealed the information did not deserve to be protected because the information they shared was meant only to smear Convertino.
“There is no public interest whatsoever, or journalistic interest, in assisting the government in acting in a totalitarian fashion,” he said in a telephone interview from Washington. “Propaganda designed to discredit a whistleblower deserves no protection, and, in fact, it raises ethical issues for any responsible journalist to permit a newspaper to be used by the government as an instrument to violate sacred legal protections.”
Convertino says the Justice Department retaliated against him because he participated in a U.S. Senate committee investigation.
Kohn said the Justice Department investigated the leak to the Free Press, interviewing 30 people identified as having access to the information. All denied giving information to the paper.